Many people assume that the Republican Party stands for capitalism. If this is true, Republicans have failed miserably.
Critics across the political spectrum agree that the Republican Party needs to change its image. In the most recent election, the GOP suffered a surprising loss against a president who should have been easier to defeat. Obama has explicitly undermined the Constitution in multiple ways, whether it be via the Affordable Care Act, attacking the Second Amendment or the expansion of executive powers.
Commentators have cited many factors that led to this defeat, such as Romney being a bad candidate (his 47 percent remark certainly did not help) or alienating certain voter groups with backward views on abortion and gay marriage. Other events such as Hurricane Sandy helped boost Obama’s approval ratings.
But the GOP has not merely lost this election. If Republicans, or conservatives more generally, are supposed to be the representatives of economic or individual freedom, they have failed. Our government, with a few minor setbacks, has consistently expanded in scope and size since the beginning of the 20th century, regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats were in power.
Remember: truly defending capitalism is not merely about defending some economic freedom or being “pro-business.” Defending capitalism consistently requires defending all aspects of individual rights. This means an unmitigated laissez-faire economic system — as Ayn Rand explained, ”a separation of state and economics, in the same way and for the same reasons as the separation of state and church.” (The Virtue of Selfishness)
Aside from advocating strict immigration and arbitrary definitions of marriage and personhood — all of which entail violations of individual rights — Republicans have been directly responsible for dozens of instances of improper government expansion.
The Patriot Act and the No Child Left Behind Act, both expanding federal power, were brought about by the Bush administration. During the Reagan administration, Reagan’s inspiring speeches notwithstanding, we saw an increase in protectionism, government spending and bureaucracy, and taxation.
The reason Republicans have failed to defend capitalism is not merely the fact that they have often been unprincipled, though that is true. The reason is that they have not even properly identified the moral foundations necessary to consistently defend capitalism: namely, rational selfishness or egoism — the view that one ought to be the ultimate beneficiary of her values.
For capitalism is the system that rewards and encourages egoism, by allowing people to pursue their values freely for the sake of improving their own lives, not for the sake of any other person or group.
Even Paul Ryan, who has cited Ayn Rand as an influence, has not explicitly identified this. (For him and many other Republicans, accepting egoism is totally at odds with the Judeo-Christian morality of altruism). Rather, it seems that he cares only about economic freedom as a means of helping the middle-class and small businesses, or fixing the government debt.
Those are fair points, but in the long run, such a limited advocacy of capitalism without its moral foundations can only lead to the capitulations we have seen in the past.
Those moral foundations can be found in Ayn Rand’s philosophy, which upholds as an ideal a life dedicated to a productive purpose, a cultivation of self-esteem and the commitment to rational action — all for the sake of achieving one’s own happiness.
Thus, in order to reverse this trend, Republicans need to challenge the views of many liberals that we have a moral duty to sacrifice our values to the poor or for the common good, and that allowing individuals to freely pursue their own interests is morally wrong.
TRISTAN DE LIEGE is not a conservative. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.